Death by Pillow-Fight: Ridiculous French Royal Deaths

When it comes to French royals dying, Marie Antoinette always grabs the headlines. Madame la Guillotine has that effect. But if you look a bit further back in French history, there are royal deaths that make having your head chopped off look positively bourgeois in its uncomplicated straightforwardness.

Take Charles VIII, for example. While in residence at the Chateau of Amboise, he went with his queen to watch some courtiers playing tennis in the moat. (The moat would have been dry at the time, one presumes. Water polo is one thing; water tennis quite another.) They decided to watch from the Hacquelbac Gallery, described by a chronicler of the time, Philippe de Commynes, as “the most unseemly place within the house, since everybody used to piss there”.

medieval woodcut of men playing an early form of tennis without rackets, while others watch
The chaps on the far left are betting on the game. The players are wishing someone would hurry up and invent tennis racquets. The chap in the middle has just realized that everybody does indeed piss in the gallery.

Despite being, according to the same chronicler, “very short”, Charles managed to bang his forehead against the door frame. Then, after watching the game and chatting for some time, he collapsed, and died nine hours later “on a shabby pallet,” still in the aforementioned gallery where everybody used to piss. (One can only hope they found somewhere else for this function in the meantime. Refilling the moat, perhaps.)

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